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Quake Silences Bell's Only Movie House

October 18, 1987|RENE ROMO | Times Staff Writer

BELL — When the Oct. 1 earthquake shook the 63-year-old Liberty Theater Building, it rattled more than this community's only movie house.

It also rocked the lives of dozens of tenants who lived and worked in the venerable building, as well as those in a building next door that was hammered by falling brick.

Liberty Three Cinema and four other businesses were forced to close when city building inspectors declared both buildings dangerous. In addition, 32 people in the Liberty Apartments and 14 residents of an adjacent apartment complex were forced for evacuate.

Now, they are all struggling to put their lives--and, in many cases, their finances--back together.

Some, like dentist Stephen Patashnik, have applied for federal assistance. But the dollars to put them back in business could be weeks, or even months away.

"If your tooth hurts now, are you going to wait to see me in three months?" asked Patashnik, who had moved into the Liberty just six weeks ago.

Arman Akarakian, 58, owns the now-closed theater, and he was the proprietor of both the Liberty Three Cinema and the Liberty Apartments. He rented space to Monique's Bridal Shop, Jessica's Dress Shop, the Star Beauty Salon and Patashnik's dental office.

Akarakian estimated the value of his property at about $3 million. He said he is trying to decide whether to raise the $400,000 necessary to rebuild the structure and bring it "up to code," sell the property to a buyer who might try to rebuild, or demolish the building and sell the land.

Reconstruction would be enormously costly. "And even then," Akarakian said, "the problem is I will still have an old building."

Akarakian bought what had been the Alcazar Theater in 1975. He divided the 1,200-seat, single-screen cinema into three smaller theaters two years later. He initially used the business as a training ground for his teen-age sons, Greg and Dan, who worked the concession stand, ushered or ran the film projectors.

Now Greg, who graduated from Northrop University with a degree in business administration, does the accounting and Dan is in charge of buying and booking films. The family owns a second theater in Highland Park.

Last week, the sons were removing new aisle lights they had installed two months ago as part of a general upgrading of the theater. 'We're not giving up," said Dan. "We'll still be in the theater business, but I don't think Bell will have another theater."

Others are making decisions on their own businesses.

Tino's Business Machines, along with a seven-unit apartment complex, is in a structurally sound building that sits next to the weakened Liberty Theater. As a result, the store has been temporarily closed, and owner Tino Sanchez waits for the tons of brick atop the building to be removed and for the city to decide if it is safe for him and the tenants to reenter.

Sanchez said he had worked until 3:30 a.m. the day of the earthquake, putting the finishing touches on a paint job that was part of $5,000 worth of improvements, including new floors and carpeting.

Four hours later, the force of the quake cracked the walls and sent plaster tumbling to the floor.

Since closing his shop, Sanchez has worked out of his home, selling computers and other equipment and performing minor repairs for his customers. "So here I'm standing, I have nowhere to go. I've had some thought about looking for a new location, but the rents now are incredible," he said.

Meanwhile, Olivia Guerrero, who opened Monique's Bridal Shop six months ago on the corner of Clarkson and Gage avenues, has decided to find a new location to rent. Monique's was her first business.

Guerrero said she does not relish the thought of investing more money on her tight budget, but the longer she waits, the more business she loses.

"It's pretty tough, I tell you. I mean, you say, 'I'm lucky, I'm alive.' But at the same time, you notice something's missing. In the meantime, I'm not doing any business," Guerrero said.

Shards of display window glass ripped the wedding dresses that the mannequins wore in her old shop. Now, Guerrero is busily making dress samples to display at her next location.

Left Deep Cracks

When the quake rolled through the Liberty building, it left deep cracks at the rear of the cinemas, and along the hallways and stairwells of the apartment wing. Plaster fell in sheets from ceilings. Business people and tenants hurriedly removed property from their dwellings and offices. "We had to get our equipment out of the building as quickly as possible, because we were afraid the whole thing was going to come down on our heads," Patashnik said.

Patashnik said he is seeking a Small Business Administration loan of $75,000 to $125,000 to cover the investment he made in his office.

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